In celebration of the NFL's "Inspire Change" initiative, the Buffalo Bills banded together in a significant way on Monday, May 6, paying visits to six local youth programs throughout the city. Bills players such as Micah Hyde, Lorenzo Alexander, Harrison Phillips and over 20 of their teammates, were able to see first-hand how $170,000 of the $212,000 that they, along with ownership and staff, raised to fund social justice initiatives, was put to good use.
Selected by the player community leadership committee, the Bills provided donations and ceremonial game balls to Bornhava, the Belle Center, Lt. Col. Matt Urban Services of Western New York, Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo, Buffalo-Area Engineering Awareness for Minorites (BEAM) and Gloria J. Parks Community Center.
Bornhava, a center that specializes in providing young children with differing abilities a play-based environment where they can learn, has added a new music and movement program. Benefiting 142 children across 10 classrooms, the program will begin in September. On-site to show their support were Phillips, who has developed a connection with Bornhava during his tenure with the team, and fellow Bills players Patrick DiMarco, Mitch Morse, John Brown, Conor McDermott and Mike Love.
"One of the really cool things that Bornhava does, is try and find as many interactive ways to get the body, mind, soul, spirit, brain all working together, and I think that music is a fantastic way to do that," said Phillips."…There are a couple kids who last time [I visited] they weren't even walking, and this time they are. So, to match the physical movements as well as the brain power and stimulate it all together, and everyone has a smile on their face when they're doing it, I think it's an awesome activity to add to their regiment here."
The Belle Center, an organization which offers educational, social and community building services for children, seniors and families throughout the area, launched a STEM and Sports program for students in grades six through 12. The program will bring in role models of successful men and women as mentors to ultimately help increase Hispanic and African American graduation rates in the City of Buffalo. Paying a visit today were local role models Lorenzo Alexander, Tyler Kroft, Ryan Lewis and Deon Lacey.
"We're over at the Belle Center today [as] part of our social justice initiative that we started back in 2017," explained Alexander. "Really [we are] just [trying] to engage the community financially and with our time and energy as well. Today we had four guys out here, including myself, playing with the kids, doing both sports and STEM...
"I think it's important for us to continue to invest in the community here locally. Obviously, it brings resources and it also gives these kids an opportunity to expose themselves to things that they may not necessarily see at school. So, that's why we picked the Belle Center because they're doing a lot of great work here – especially in that STEM realm and we can't wait to see where it grows from here and all the lives and people that we impact by doing it."
Lt. Col. Matt Urban Services of Western New York serves families in need in several ways and will implement an after-school program for third, fourth and fifth grade children at five of the center's locations. By working with the Police Athletic League and The First Tee to engage youth in sports, the organization hopes to encourage both athletic and personal development. Bills such as Jerry Hughes, Tremaine Edmunds, Jason Croom, Julian Stanford, Dion Dawkins, Matt Milano, Jake Fisher and Quinton Spain, stopped by the center to spend time with kids there as they played a basketball game. The group also got to know the youngsters as they posed for photos and signed autographs.
At the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo, the funding supported the purchase of kits and staffing to provide a social-emotional wellness program for club members called "Positive Action Education" to the region's 10 Clubhouses for kids of varying grade levels. Positive Action is an evidence-based curriculum, showing that positive actions lead to positive feelings. With each kit, children are given a multitude of different activities to promote positive self-esteem.
Joining Micah Hyde at the Boy and Girls Clubs' William C. Baird Clubhouse today were his teammates Andre Roberts, Eddie Yarbrough and Dion Dawkins. The group got to witness as the kids there put the program into practice. They also had fun playing educational games and participating in fitness activities and a dance party.
"That's what's so beautiful," said Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo Chief Executive Officer, Shari McDonough about the player involvement. "I mean it's always beautiful that the foundation can support all the non-profits, but to have these players give up their own dollars to give back to the community, to these young people in need, it's truly beautiful."
"It was awesome…Coming here today and seeing what they received, and also seeing the kids playing…that's what it's about," said Hyde. "…It's getting to the point where we know these kids. They know us, we know them. So, it's good to be a role model in this community and we love it.
"We were competing with that game – we had a blast. I'm in here, sweating, running around with kids. Like I said, it's getting to the point where we know them and they know us, and I think that's the number one thing. To actually be out in the community and be there one time [is great], but we're getting to the point where we know each other [because] we've had three, four or five events together."
The BEAM program will use the funds in weekly activities during the school year, and in summer programming, to connect students with experts in a range of engineering fields.
Throughout the year, the University District Community Development Association located at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center will use the funding to hold an after-school tutoring program for children in grades one through eight who suffer with reading aptitude deficits of at least one full grade level. They will do so by using small group and individual tutoring based on a high quality, data-based curriculum.
At the Gloria J. Parks Community Center on Monday, children were treated to a special BEAM robotics presentation. There to take part in the event, and celebrate both organizations, were Bills players Jordan Poyer, Cam Phillips, Jon Feliciano, Corey Bojorquez and LaAdrian Waddle.
While the entire day was filled with hope and positivity, the Bills see it as just the beginning of the lasting change they're looking to make in their Western New York home.
"A lot of guys have their own charities, so we do charity work on our own. But then at the same time, stuff that the Bills put on, the community puts on, there are a lot of guys that want to be a part of this because it's good to get out into the community and see these kids," said Hyde.
"I l[even] looked up to the varsity football team [when I was a kid]. Whenever there were athletes around, I was always inspired. So, it means a lot. It definitely meant a lot to me growing up to see these people in front of me and I had positive mentors. It's good to be that mentor."